The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy
By Dr. Jessie Fields
David Daley does a fine job of exploring the politics of redistricting and the current escalation of gerrymandering, a very old corrupt standard practice of elected officials determining the electoral districts from which they are elected, drawing the lines of state legislative and congressional districts. The author examines in detail the resulting high level of voter disenfranchisement at the state and national level, the effective takeover of our political process by party operatives who determine the outcome of elections by packing Democratic leaning minority voters into dense urban districts and spreading so called Republican leaning voters over more districts which Republican legislators can be assured to win though by smaller margins. Throughout the book Daley touches on the racial and economic divisions this practice perpetuates.
The book pivots through the years of the Obama presidency and examines the 2010 Republican Party escalation of partisan gerrymandering that targeted districts in key states to successfully control the state redistricting process which resulted in unprecedented victories for the Republican Party and their domination of a majority of state legislatures and of Congress. The author also points out the complacency of the Democratic Party, its focus on presidential elections and the Democratic Party’s reliance on demographics to win elections.
A solution to gerrymandering is unlikely to come from either of the two parties. The Republicans may have perfected it in 2010, but both sides have had a long, successful history of manipulating redistricting for their own advantage. A political party is built to win elections, after all – as well as to raise money and employ consultants and operatives. Their leaders always believe they can win the next one, and that reformers will stop howling once their side regains power. Too often, sadly, that’s true.”
Independent voters have been and remain committed to nonpartisan political reform including redistricting reform. The source for reform has come primarily from voter ballot initiatives and the book highlights the fights to maintain such initiatives in states like Arizona, where the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme court and the voter initiative was upheld by a 5-4 vote of the court.
Other examples of the passage of redistricting reforms by popular vote are Florida’s “nonpartisan Fair Districts Now coalition” which in 2010 passed two reform initiatives with 62 percent support. In 2015 Ohio voters by 71% passed a ballot initiative that, though limited, established a less partisan plan for drawing state legislative districts.
However California, in my estimate the state that has led the country in electoral reform victories with its redistricting commission and nonpartisan top two elections initiatives, passed by the voters in 2010, is not mentioned except in a quote in the chapter, “Democrats” from Martin Frost, a former Texas Congressman who was gerrymandered out of office.
“When Democrats controlled the House for the four decades before the 1994 Gingrich revolution, redistricting worked with a wink, he said; it was an incumbent protection racket on both sides. .. “That’s why prior to the referendum in California – prior to the commission – everyone got reelected.” “The numbers back that up.”
The overarching theme of the book is in the subtitle, “The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy”. It expresses the stealth aspect of the reality of what is happening to American democracy. A centerpiece of the theft and destruction of democracy is partisan gerrymandering in conjunction with closed partisan primaries. If the primaries locally and nationally were open and every voter, no matter party affiliation or non-affiliation, including independent voters could vote the threat of being “primaried” by a far right wing Republican would not exist.
The relationship of opening the primaries to all voters along with redistricting reform is underestimated, both are needed. Partisan gerrymandering hinges on the district being dominated by identification with one political party, so that whoever wins that party primary wins the general election. If the primary is open to all voters the candidates who are successful are more likely those that appeal to a cross section of voters. This phenomenon has been demonstrated in states with nonpartisan open primaries. A massive continuous infusion of systemic democracy reforms and initiatives that take power from the parties and put it in the hands of the voters are needed to save our democracy. I could not agree more with Daley that “.., it will require creative state and local solutions, inventive uses of the referendum and initiative process, and new alliances of frustrated citizens which defy party boundaries, rooted in the belief that fair elections which reflect an honest majority are as important as which side wins. It will take people to stand up and say that our democratic values matter too deeply to ratfuck.”
The book was completed before the end of the 2016 presidential election, and in it Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, postulates alternative scenarios if the election was won by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or “a Republican” given that gerrymandering has given the Republican Party a congressional majority for the rest of this decade. Donald Trump is now president. He was elected because large segments of the American people are in revolt against the establishment and are looking for ways to change politics. This popular revolt was also expressed in the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders.
The gerrymander is yet another example of a political barrier that must be overcome. Voters are becoming more independent and less easily sorted by party identification. Independents say strongly “do not put me in that box”, 43% of Americans now identify as independents, they are the hoped for bridge to a new and more inclusive American democracy.